Riverdale Season 7 Gives Cheryl and Toni a Second Chance, and Cements Choni as the Heart of the Show

TV Features Riverdale
Riverdale Season 7 Gives Cheryl and Toni a Second Chance, and Cements Choni as the Heart of the Show

Six episodes into Riverdale’s seventh and final season, it is crystal clear just how freeing the ‘50s time jump has been for the writers of this series. (In Episode 5, for example, Riverdale ventured into the mind of Jughead “Jugular” Jones and told four short horror stories using our central Riverdaliens as the main characters of Jughead’s bid for a Pep Comics byline). Beyond the ways in which the vintage setting has created more opportunities for creative freedom and campy self-reflection, it has allowed for the relationships between each character to be reevaluated and recontextualized, opening the door for further exploration of high school-age dynamics the series time-jumped away from in the middle of Season 5. In particular, the recontextualized relationship brewing between Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) and Toni (Vanessa Morgan) has been stellar so far, grounding Riverdale in the blooming love shared between these two young women. 

In order to talk about Cheryl and Toni—affectionately dubbed Choni—in the past, we have to know where they started in the future. During the second season of the series, Cheryl’s storyline shifted from exploring her mean girl shenanigans and all-consuming grief over her brother’s murder to an exploration of her sexuality. Towards the end of the season, Cheryl is sent to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy convent, where she is forced into conversion therapy by her own mother. In Episode 17, Toni is one of the small group to help break her out, and they share their first kiss in the flickering light of the projected conversion film playing in the convent’s small chapel. Throughout the rest of the series, Cheryl and Toni find themselves growing together and then growing apart, with Toni getting married to her friend Fangs just before the comet explosion sent them back to 1955. Because of their long history (and the Season 6 revelation that the two of them are actually, magically and canonically, soulmates destined to be together), it’s always been easy to make the case that Choni is one of Riverdale’s central pillars, but never more so than in Season 7. 

From the very beginning of the season, Toni makes her desire for Cheryl very clear, and immediately sets out to win her heart. Between asking her to dance at the sock hop and inviting her to come watch her interpretive dance performance at The Dark Room, Toni takes every opportunity to get closer to Cheryl, and she’s finally rewarded for her efforts in Season 7’s sixth episode. After Cheryl nearly runs away to get married to Archie in a desperate bid to hide her lesbianism from both her family and Riverdale at large, she allows herself to open up to Toni, and they finally share their (second) first kiss in the empty locker room after cheer practice. Ever since the time jump was announced, there have rightfully been concerns about putting Riverdale’s out queer characters into a crueler time period, effectively closetting them in the show’s final outing. And while those concerns were not unfounded, the handling of Cheryl and Toni’s story in particular has proven to be spectacular, and was only further uplifted by Episode 6. 

Cheryl and Toni in Riverdale Season 7 on The CW

Because, despite being in a more constraining and restricting time, where sexuality of any kind was shielded from view and deviance was not to be tolerated by any means, there is a kind of earnestness at play within this new relationship between Cheryl and Toni—a weightlessness, somehow, that wasn’t there the first time around. Even though there is potentially even more danger waiting around the bend for them should they be caught, Cheryl and Toni in this ‘50s timeline do not carry that weight with them, in a seemingly conscious choice by the writers of Riverdale.

In Episode 6, when Cheryl and Toni share their stories of self-realization, it’s not the soul-crushing confessional we saw during Season 2, but rather just the beginning of something simultaneously sweet and empowering. The removal of Heather from Cheryl’s backstory in particular allows her to open up more quickly to Toni, this time around not scarred from a violent and cruel separation from a first love, but instead simply a sideline observer as her mother ostracized her own sister (Cheryl’s aptly-named Aunt Carol) for being a lesbian. For Toni, her backstory featured fewer changes than Cheryl’s, and the lack of changes within hers speaks volumes as well. By allowing a character as confident and loud within her bisexuality to exist within the realm of the ‘50s is empowering, and allows the series to showcase a side of period-drama queerness that is often ignored; while most period-set sapphic stories center around the pain and hardship of queerness and hatred in a harsher time, Toni represents those that refused to conform to society’s fears and boxes—she simply lives how she pleases and thrives because of it. And Cheryl and Toni’s blatant desire doesn’t take a backseat because of the setting either, with a recurring visual theme showcasing just how smitten and mystified Cheryl and Toni are with each other, holding the same narrative importance of the budding sexualities of their straight counterparts as well. 

The best part of this kinder rewrite for Cheryl and Toni is that the audience will still always have the other version of their story available to view, and that dramatic irony colors Riverdale’s revisions of its own history. Toni’s insistence that Cheryl is “sensational” during that Season 2 scene will always remain one of their best moments, and its stand-out nature allows the Season 7 scenes to take on a new meaning. As we watch Cheryl and Toni fall in love for the first time all over again, we know how hard they had it before, and those negative experiences only serve to make Season 7’s cool and confident Toni and unburdened and giddy Cheryl all the better. 

Riverdale’s seventh and final season is still young, of course, and there is surely pain and suffering for Cheryl and Toni around the bend at some point (especially considering how closely they were being watched by the school’s guidance counselor during the sock hop in Episode 2), but for now, the easy way in which these two simply fall together can’t be undone by whatever trouble awaits them. There was nothing wrong with Riverdale’s choices regarding Cheryl and Toni in Season 2—it’s always important to take hard looks at the harsh realities that plague queer people today—but there is also importance in Riverdale’s kindness towards ‘50s Choni; in a time as difficult as the 1950s for queer people, it’s refreshing to see Toni loudly and proudly being herself, and helping Cheryl do the same. There will always be an undercurrent of danger to their relationship, but the same danger is present within the curious innocence that colors Archie and Betty’s window peep show in Episode 6 as well. There’s a keen sense of equality there, a gentle reminder to the audience that, even though the ‘50s are hard, Riverdale is not going to make Cheryl and Toni’s lives harder than anyone else’s, crucially not punishing them for their queerness like lesser shows may have. 

Though Riverdale has not always treated Cheryl and Toni’s relationship with the respect it deserves (I don’t want to talk about Season 4 or the fact that Cheryl was the one to officiate Toni and Fangs’ wedding), the path being tread for them in Riverdale’s last outing feels like a love letter to fans of this relationship and the characters within it, just like so much of this last season feels tailor-made for superfans of the series. With so much of Riverdale’s final season yet to air, it’s refreshing to be able to sit back and enjoy the show, knowing that each week we’ll be watching Cheryl and Toni fall in love like they were always meant to, tethering the series to its humanity through this near-perfect couple in the midst of its par-for-the-course ridiculousness. 

Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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